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How to get your restaurant ready for the holidays

From the kitchen to front of house to back office, we cover everything you need to know about getting your restaurant ready for the holiday season.

The pandemic’s impact on the restaurant trade in South Africa has been profound – an estimated 3,000 eateries closed down during Level 3 of national lockdown alone. But, with vaccine rollouts well underway and relaxed restrictions (for now?), many locals are chomping at the bit to have a truly festive silly season. And this year may be the perfect summer to recoup some of the last two years’ losses.

In most restaurants, there are three main areas to consider when gearing up for a busy season:

  • The kitchen
  • Front of house
  • Back office

Each comes with its own challenges and deserves special attention and care to maximise its potential.

1. Kitchen

Clean the slate

Do an EPIC deep clean and sanitise of every inch of the kitchen and food storage spaces, followed by a precise stocktake of equipment. Carefully clean every inch of every piece of equipment and make a list of those that need maintenance. Even if you can’t afford to service them all now, having a record will help you plan maintenance costs for the months to come.

Keep fire and pests in check

Prioritise fire- and health-related maintenance. Book your biannual professional extractor duct cleaning and service all fire extinguishers and equipment. The not-so-lovely part about warmer weather is that it attracts flies and roaches! So, now’s a good time to make sure your pest control measures (whether that’s Venus Fly Traps or poison) are up to the task. Help contain the problem by keeping bins and refuse storage areas clean and sealed, and clean grease and fat traps as close to refuse removal day as possible.

Cut the fat

Look at your menu through a data lens: analyse the performance of every dish and cull ruthlessly. If a dish is not popular, take it off. If it has a low profit margin, remove it. If you always get complaints about it, off it goes. If it takes too long to make and tends to hold up service, bin it. If you’re not happy with anything about it, get rid of it. Think of it like reducing a sauce – you’re getting down to the good stuff!

Massage that menu

So, you’ve pared down your dishes to only the high performers with sustainable food costs. Now what?

  • Recipes: Make sure that whatever recipes are being followed in the kitchen are delicious, up-to-date, easy to follow, and include an accurate yield indication. Then, every time a batch is prepared, keep a record of actual yield, so discrepancies can quickly be spotted.
  • Mise-en-place: Simplify and streamline your kitchen workflows with prep, hygiene, and portioning checklists, and a clear delineation of who is responsible for what. No matter how your kitchen works, an efficient service boils down to teamwork and setting boundaries and clear expectations from the get-go.
  • Presentation: It’s no time to go overboard with expensive or complicated garnishes, but it’s definitely a good time to make sure that every single plate looks photo-worthy. That way, you’ll keep cashing in on free social media marketing! Tip: Create a unique hashtag for your restaurant and encourage customers to share and tag photo.
  • Try something new: Add one or two things to your menu that are new and exciting, tap into trends, have low food costs, and are simple to execute. Think gourmet street food and classics with a fresh twist. Find inspiration in and embrace the season – clichés are appreciated at Christmastime! But don’t be hasty to add them to the menu – rather, use a specials blackboard, monitor how they perform, and get feedback from customers.

2. Front of House

Energise the service

Before the crowds descend (hopefully), make sure your service staff are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the menu changes. Refresh your waiter training, going over the basics of service, as well as getting your team excited about the menu – especially if there are changes! Let them taste as much as possible, so they’re inspired to sell everything.

Make hay

Once you have your hard-won customers through the doors, you have a relatively captive audience – but a surprisingly short window of time to plump up that bill. Brush up on your up-selling techniques, and know what to suggest for each dish: “Would you like extra bacon with that? Some avo?” What drink pairings could servers suggest that cost more than the average glass of house white? Make up-selling conversational and relaxed, so it’s never pushy but part of the experience of getting personal, thoughtful, and caring service.

Sanitise surfaces, not service

At a time when every customer counts more than ever, your service needs to be amazing. Adhering to stringent social distancing and hygiene protocols while creating a warm atmosphere is a difficult balance to strike. However, you can never go wrong with a personal touch. Make a special effort to remember the names of regular customers and their families, be more animated with your eyes (while wearing a mask), and show you care through the level of detail and attention of your service.

Be Insta-worthy!

It’s a great time to refresh your shop’s look and feel, so you can cash in on the free social media marketing you’ll get when customers just can’t resist posting photos of their lunch. And it doesn’t have to cost much either – check out these simple tricks to update your vibe on a tight budget. Whether you’re folding your own origami decorations, or sanding and repainting tables after closing time, you’ll inject new life into your space with small touch-ups. This also means checking that all tables and chairs are in good condition (get a screwdriver and tighten those legs), clearing all the clutter and dust out of every corner (shelves, light fittings, indoor plants – every corner!) and welcoming more sunshine into your space. If you have an outdoor dining area, go all out in maximising its appeal for easy social distancing, and taking full advantage of the great weather.

3. Back Office

Take things off your plate

We’ve all heard the adage “work smarter, not harder”, and using the right cloud-based software for the job is a fundamental part of doing just that. Get tasks like inventory tracking and management done seamlessly and automatically, reduce complexities with bank feeds, and use insights from your own data to propel your business forward, without working any harder.

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Be a Scrooge this Christmas

Update your menu’s food costings, and make sure they’re (as close as possible to) spot on. Get lots of feedback from the kitchen here! Consistency can be difficult in a restaurant setting: chefs are human, and each batch is unique, which may require slightly different seasoning. When food is getting plated, is the portion size always the same? Over time, as teams change, make sure your costings still match reality.

However you choose to rev your restaurant engine this summer, we wish you a merry and profitable holiday season.